Indonesia has captured a huge Thai-owned ship believed to be transporting fish caught by slaves, and Thai authorities have announced more arrests in a human trafficking case involving at least 146 suspects.
Early Thursday, the Indonesian navy escorted the Silver Sea 2, a refrigerated cargo ship weighing 2,285 tons and measuring 81.7 meters (268.1 feet) long, to port in Sabang, in Indonesia’s westernmost Aceh province.
“Thank you Navy … The tramper vessel Silver Sea 2 has been captured by @TNI_AL tonight. One week of tracking, finally success,” Indonesian Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti tweeted Wednesday.
‘We have never done anything like it’
The Associated Press, which broke the story, had been tracking the ship’s movements from waters off Papua New Guinea – the country immediately east of Indonesia – to Sumatra, in the northwestern reaches of the archipelago.
The agency alleged that the vessel was carrying fish from vessels crewed by enslaved men, many of them victims of human trafficking from Myanmar and other countries in southern Asia.
AP said it had alerted Indonesian authorities to the vessel’s presence in national waters. The navy spent a week trying to intercept the ship before it succeeded on Wednesday.
A representative of Silver Sea Reefer Co., the Thai firm that owns the Silver Sea 2, denied that the ship had been seized or was in any way tied to human trafficking.
“We have received numerous calls from Thai agencies … asking about this and basically we have never done anything like it,” Venus Pornpasert told AP.
Susi, the Indonesian fisheries minister, said an investigation would be launched into suspected human trafficking and transportation of illegally caught fish.
"There are indications that Silver Sea 2 performs transshipment of fish caught in Indonesian territory by some Benjina vessels," she said in Jakarta on Thursday, according to okezone.com, an Indonesian-language news website.
The minister was referring to seafood company PT Pusaka Benjina Resources, which has been accused of using slave labor. Benjina is also the name of an island in eastern Indonesia’s Maluku province, where hundreds of crew members on fishing boats were freed from slave-like conditions in March.
Songkhla case widens
Also on Thursday, Thailand announced it had issued a new batch of arrest warrants for suspects linked to human trafficking in the Deep South.
Southern Thailand is a major transit point for Rohingya Muslims, who pay human traffickers large sums of money to smuggle them into neighboring Malaysia as they flee religious persecution in Myanmar.
In early May, the discovery of the bodies of 32 illegal migrants in the jungles of southern Thailand’s Songkhla province led to a governmental crackdown against human traffickers.
On Thursday, Thai officials said warrants had been issued Aug. 11 for the arrests of 26 people on human trafficking charges stemming from that case – as well as 42 other people suspected of money-laundering linked to human trafficking.
“The 26 were involved in the trafficking of Rohingya case since the beginning,” Gen. Ek Angsananond, the deputy chief of national police, told reporters in Hat Yai, Songkhla.
“And there were others who were involved with money and were wanted under money laundering offenses, and arrests warrants were also issued on them,” he added, noting that authorities had seized 200 million baht (U.S. $5.68 million) worth of assets in their investigation into the money-laundering angle.
Twelve of the new suspects have been arrested and charged thus far, and the rest remain at-large, Police Maj. Gen. Praween Pongsirin, the lead investigator, told reporters.
In late July, the Nathawee court handling the case indicted 72 suspects taken into custody since the crackdown was launched in early May.
At that time, 48 other suspects had been named. One had died, 32 were on the run and 15 were in custody but without enough evidence to indict them, according to the Thai Office of the Attorney General.
Nasueroh contributed to this report.